Xavier Ellis and Tom Hawkins share a special bond.
For three years, the pair spent a lot of time together as country kids enjoying the Melbourne lifestyle during their schooling at Melbourne Grammar.
Incredibly, they would both be drafted to successful clubs who would spend the best part of a decade challenging for premierships and playing off in the last Saturday of September.
Ahead of Hawkins’ 200th game this weekend, Ellis spoke to Aflplayers.com.au to share some insight into the Geelong big man.
“I really enjoyed our time together. But there are always difficulties living with such a huge bloke,” Ellis told Aflplayers.com.au.
“One night he flipped me off my mattress and he was that big and strong he sent me flying which was a joy.”
The pair were roommates from year nine until the end of year 12 when they graduated and joined AFL lists.
Interestingly, Ellis was drafted while he was still at school to the Hawks with pick three in the 2005 AFL Draft, whereas Hawkins waited until 2006 for his opportunity.
“We were mates from day one, he was my first roommate and a great teammate.”
The pair weren’t always focused on their schooling as they began to focus on their respective football careers, but it never stopped them having a laugh.
Ellis even says being roommates probably retracted from their educational abilities more than anything.
“Tom was always good fun, whenever we were meant to be studying you could bet we were kicking the footy around the boarding house, or doing something other than studying.”
Their bright footballing future was obvious when they began playing in the top age side from year nine.
“We played first team footy together which was great fun and wanted to play footy all day, every day,” Ellis recalled.
“The best memories are that we never took each other too seriously on or off the ground. We always pushed each other, but we were both really keen on playing AFL and school was our last real opportunity to play with our mates and to play for fun. It’s something we both have fond memories of.”
Their relationship stretched beyond teammates — even through their AFL careers — they’ve always had a friend to talk to.
If one of them was facing an issue with form or was generally feeling down, there was always a friend there to confide in.
“Through year 12, we were thinking about what we planned to do once we were drafted, so it was great to have someone to talk to and even through recent years.
“We’ve always had the ability to talk to each other, whenever one of us is down or feeling flat, or out of form, we’ve always had a positive voice.”
The pair shared the special moments too, with Hawkins calling Ellis straight after the Hawks’ 2008 Grand Final win to congratulate him on the achievement, despite the Cats’ brute missing out on selection.
While things started out slowly for Geelong’s 2006 father-son selection, Ellis says Hawkins was a dominant force in junior footy and the same qualities are now paying off at AFL level.
“The general game plan for us [at Melbourne Grammar] was to win it in the midfield and just kick it long and Tom would sort it out in the forward line.”
It’s the same dominance up forward that Ellis credits for Hawkins’ success.
“His ability to win a ball one-on-one is so impressive, even in junior footy he was the strongest around and a beautiful set shot. He’s one of the very few that can mark the ball 50-60m out and be considered a genuine scoring threat.”
On the eve of a significant milestone, Hawkins’ former roommate believes he’s far from done and is a unique player with a big role to play for Geelong.
“I guess he’s what you’d call a match winner, everyone has a good midfield but when you’ve got a forward like Hawkins or Franklin and they get on top, it’s game over.”